Ends and Means

I may go into this in a somewhat more substantive way in a later post but a considerable portion of the political dialogue I hear today is a failure of praxeology, the science of relating ends to means in human action. Typical exchange:

Individual A: “The ACA is a bad piece of legislation and unlikely to accomplish its nominal objectives”

Individual B: “That’s a Republican talking point!”


Individual B: “You’re opposed to healthcare reform! But the present system is unsustainable.”


Individual B: “You hate poor/brown/etc. people! You’re a tool of the oligarchy!”

Another exchange:

Individual A: “Invading Afghanistan is imprudent.”

Individual B: “We can’t just do nothing!”


Individual B:: “You’re objectively supporting the terrorists!”

Yet another exchange:

Individual A: “’Stand Your Ground’ laws will, at the margins, increase the number of violent confrontations.”

Individual B: “We’ve got to take back the streets from the criminals!”


Individual B: “I have a natural and legal right to firearms! You’re violating my rights!”

I freely confess that Individual A doesn’t always state his or her views so non-agonistically and that Individual B isn’t always that agonistic. However, each of these exchanges illustrates a confusion of ends and means. Sometimes the confusion is the fallacy of false dilemma, sometimes its confusing ends with means, or reflexive ad hominem arguments, or any number of other fallacies.

It is possible to believe that the ACA is bad law, the invasion of Afghanistan was a bad idea, or “Stand Your Ground” laws may actually make people less secure without opposing healthcare reform, being an objective supporter of terrorism (or a pacifist), or that people should be more secure in their persons and property, respectively. I think we should be discussing and agreeing on objectives and then considering how those objectives can best be accomplished. We’re not doing that.

24 comments… add one
  • I think it comes down to tribalism. I still find this piece a very good summary (it’s about partisanship, but I think it works for tribalism as well), especially this part:

    It’s not just that partisans are vulnerable to believing fatuous nonsense. It’s that their beliefs, whether sensible or otherwise, about a whole range of empirical questions are determined by their political identity. There’s no epistemologically sound reason why one’s opinion about, say, the effects of gun control should predict one’s opinion about whether humans have contributed to climate change or how well Mexican immigrants are assimilating — these things have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Yet the fact is that views on these and a host of other matters are indeed highly correlated with each other. And the reason is that people start with political identities and then move to opinions about how the world works, not vice versa.

  • michael reynolds Link

    I think we should be discussing and agreeing on objectives and then considering how those objectives can best be accomplished. We’re not doing that.

    Oh, you crazy idealist.

    This is the reason why I occasionally whine that we should be teaching philosophy in high schools. It’s not that people know how to think but occasionally play fast and loose to score a point. It’s that they don’t know how to think to begin with. They start with an almost total disconnect between ends and means, and then top it off with ideology. You’re left arguing your case not with people who think 2 + 2 = 5, but people who think 2 + 2 = cow.

  • I think it comes down to tribalism.

    I don’t doubt that’s frequently the case. People root for their side because it’s their side. They’re inferring intent from affiliation which I think is iffy.

  • you crazy idealist

    Guilty as charged. I’m a Jeffersonian (pessimistic idealist).

    This is the reason why I occasionally whine that we should be teaching philosophy in high schools.

    If we did there would be far too much uncertainty in the population and not nearly enough complacence.

    Wonder is the foundation of all philosophy, research is the means of all learning, and ignorance is the end.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Somewhat of an aside, I don’t think the Stand Your Ground law is all that relevant to what people are concerned about, and Florida law doesn’t appear to be very different from other states. What Stand Your Ground in Florida did which appears unique is to give the accused an immunity from arrest and a process to dismiss a prosecution short of trial. The accused gets a preliminary evidentirary hearing and if he can establish by a preponderance of evidence to a judge that he was engaged in self-defense, the case is dismissed. Otherwise, he goes to trial.

    I think what people are concerned about are the situations in which someone who provokes a confrontation can claim self-defense. They can in limited circumstances (the provoker de-escalates a confrontation and either isn’t allowed to retreat or is violently attacked), but those are older issues.

  • Icepick Link

    Individual A: “’Stand Your Ground’ laws will, at the margins, increase the number of violent confrontations.”

    Correst response: “Initially.”

    PD, the “Florida Situation”? Which one? The one being reported by the national media, that an innocent thirteen year-old who never did anything wrong was shot in the back of the head by a ruthless white Klansman/Nazi, or the one where a 17 year-old punched a mestizo in the face, jumped on the mestizo’s chest and started slamming his head into concrete repeatedly, until the mestizo shot the 17 year-old (suspended from his HS on drug charges) in the chest, ending the confrontation?

    There are several other stories going around, all of them about some dude named George Zimmerman shooting some other dude named Trayvon Martin. Amazing how many different George Zimmermans managed to kill so many different Trayvon Martin’s in Florida in one day. You’ve got to specify which one, as there’s a lot going on.

  • steve Link

    Or the story where a 300 pound guy initiates a confrontation with a 160 pound 17 y/o, starts losing and shoots? (Got a cite for the drug thing?)


  • I don’t care what the color of either party’s skin is, how old they are, what they weigh, or what they were wearing. I think that

    a) under the common law there would have been a responsibility to retreat.

    b) it is possible that had the “Stand Your Ground” law never been passed in Florida that Trayvon Martin might be alive

    c) had the law not been passed George Zimmermann would almost certainly have been arrested. I think it’s outrageous that any party can shoot and kill another, unarmed party and not be arrested.

    d) I think that George Zimmermann should receive due process. It does not appear that was the case from Feb 27 to date and there is some danger that there’s a rush to judgment now.

  • michael reynolds Link

    I hate issues like this. I hate the data flow — incomplete initial reports followed by media spin followed by strategic leaks and competing press conferences and a hardening of positions. I’d be happy to leave it to a jury. Unfortunately the first step is with the prosecutor, and I have no faith in prosecutors.

  • Icepick Link

    steve, look up the drug thing yourself. I’m not going to do your homework for you. It’s all over the place now.

    That’s why Martin was in Sanford – he had been suspended from his high school (for the third time – in my day a third suspension was an automatic expulsion for half a school year) for possession of a baggie that had traces of marijuana in it. He had previously been suspended for chronic tardiness and vandalism of school property. (When they nabbed him for the vandalism thing he also appeared to be in the possession of stolen goods, but the police didn’t follow up on that.)

    As for the size of the fighters – are you really so stupid as to think the larger fighter always wins? Especially if the smaller fighter jumps first? I’d love to bet the house against you on an Anderson Silva-Bob Sapp fight.

    The narrative the police have put together, based on George Zimmerman’s account and those of eyewitnesses, is that Zimmerman was returning to his vehicle when Martin confronted him, hit him in the face (breaking his nose according to today’s reports), knocked him down and then started pounding his head into the sidewalk. At that point a gun was pulled and fired. I read one report that said that Zimmerman claimed Martin was going for the gun, other reports don’t mention that point.

    If you have ever seen anyone in full mount of a prone opponent you would realize that it is a really bad thing to be on the bottom When the person on top can use concrete as a weapon, too, the situation becomes more dire.

    Under such a circumstance the “Stand your ground” law wouldn’t be operative, as Zimmerman would not have a chance to flee.

    Now that’s the story as it stands tonight. The police bungled several aspects of the investigation, so tomorrow the story will possibly (probably) change again.

    What we do know is that George Zimmerman didn’t walk up behind a sweet, innocent 13 year-old boy (as the media is mostly using pictures of Martin when he was several years younger) and pump off two rounds into his head just because he was a hate-filled Whitey Klansman. Which has been the narrative of the media for the last couple of weeks. And the “Civil Rights” vultures like Sharpton, Jackson and Ray Lewis (who knows a thing or two about murdering innocent black men and getting away with it and needs a new career now that his NFL days are almost over) have swept into town looking to profit, foment, and incite as much violence as possible, and must at all costs keep the narrative on the “Pussy Ass Cracka” mestizo. Glad to know you are on the wagon with the Tawana Brawley Brigade.

  • Icepick Link

    Oh what the Hell, here’s your link.

  • Icepick Link

    And as predicted the story has changed again today. (I’m not going to provide links. Anyone interested can look it up for themselves, though I caution that ABC News has really sucked with their coverage.)

    In all fairness, that prediction was almost as easy as saying the Sun would come up in the east this morning, so no credit to me for getting it right.

  • steve Link

    “As for the size of the fighters – are you really so stupid as to think the larger fighter always wins? Especially if the smaller fighter jumps first? I’d love to bet the house against you on an Anderson Silva-Bob Sapp fight.”

    I have been in a number of real fights, not in a ring (well on a mat also, as I wrestled fairly successfully). Size matters, especially once you get on the ground.


  • TastyBits Link


    If you have ever seen anyone in full mount of a prone opponent you would realize that it is a really bad thing to be on the bottom When the person on top can use concrete as a weapon, too, the situation becomes more dire.

    I fully agree.

    Unless someone has seen a street fight or has been one, it is hard for most people to understand the full impact of “concrete as a weapon”, and if the person on top is intoxicated, it is worse because you are not fully aware of the damage you are doing. If you are on the bottom and your friends are not around to pull him off, you are in a world of shit, and if you had a gun, you may shoot the mother fu@%er as well.

    Of course, a medical exam could tell the extent of damage, but a broken nose by itself is not an indication of a life threatening situation. In an actual life threatening situation, you are less likely to be able to respond at that point.

  • TastyBits Link


    … Size matters, especially once you get on the ground.

    In a street fight, the last place you want to be is on the ground, and size does not matter. You will easily take a pounding by someone smaller. After smashing your head into the concrete a few times, it really does not matter who is on top. Getting kicked is not much better. If you are lucky, the guy is using a hammer punch.

    I too have been in a number of street fights. I have beat the shit out of a few guys, and I have had the shit beaten out of me by a few guys. You take a beating one way or the other. On your feet, size can be a factor, but the “will to win” is usually the most important factor. If you cannot take the pain, you are probably going to lose no matter your size.

  • Icepick Link

    Size matters, especially once you get on the ground.

    It matters, but it is not the sole determinant. Other factors matter too, like reach. Who do you think had the better reach, the 5’9″ fighter or the 6’3″ fighter. (Martin is described in today’s stories as 6’3″ – that seems to change daily.)

    TB, have you ever heard Quinton Jackson talk about why he started using body slams in fights? Before his MMA days he would sometimes end up in street fights. He discovered that slams were very effective in street situations. Something along the line of “When you slam someone on concrete, they don’t get up!”

  • TastyBits Link


    I do not watch the MMA/UFC, but when it first started, I did see some of the fighters. You could tell the guys who actually were street fighters. They were the ones with missing teeth, scars, and heart. The good ol’ boys were the ones acting like “bad asses”.

    Hitting the ground is going to hurt, and getting the wind knocked out is going to be disorienting at least. If Quinton Jackson was landing on top of the guy, it would be brutal, but he would also feel it. Concrete is unforgiving, and he understands it. Interestingly, asphalt, dirt, grass are not as hard as concrete, and canvas or mats seem like feather beds compared to concrete.

  • Icepick Link

    canvas or mats seem like feather beds compared to concrete.

    And yet you can still KTFO people with a good slam on canvas. See Jackson vs. Arona for the best power bomb finish in MMA history.

  • TastyBits Link


    I am not disparaging anybody getting to the ring. It can be brutal, but there are still a few rules. In the context of your original remarks, many people would equate MMA/UFC with street fighting, and they do not understand that having your head pounded into the sidewalk is vastly different than the ring. On the street, you may think that your life is in danger, and there may be no where to run. In the ring, you can always tap out.

    I am not justifying shooting someone for beating the shit out of you, but I do agree that it is more complicated than most people realize. Through the movies, boxing, MMA/UFC, playground or barroom fights many people believe they have “seen anyone in full mount of a prone opponent”. I am guessing you would disagree.

  • Icepick Link

    I am not disparaging anybody getting to the ring.

    I didn’t think you were, and I apologize for giving that impression. I was merely making the point that even if canvas is soft by comparison (and it is) it can still be used as a weapon. Now make it HARD….

    The situation in Sanford, if it happened as Zimmerman claims, is complicated. At what point when someone is beating the shit out of you do you have legitimate claim to use lethal force in self-defence?

  • TastyBits Link


    … At what point when someone is beating the shit out of you do you have legitimate claim to use lethal force in self-defence?

    A really good question, but I think the Sanford incident is a really bad case to use. The question will never be asked about it, but it is a really good question.

    I would say when you realize the guy is not going to stop until you are seriously hurt, but this will probably be before most people think you were in any real danger. I mean something similar to a cop shooting an unarmed person. If the cop thinks the person is going to use a weapon, the decision time is short, and the wrong choice could be fatal. After the fact, it is easy to judge the decision. The reasonable man rarely finds himself in these situations, but he finds it easy to judge them.

    Legally, I would think the circumstances that started the encounter would matter. If you did not initiate the encounter, you could more easily defend the lethal force. If you did initiate the encounter, you will probably have a much harder time justifying it. In the real world, it depends on which story gets told first, or “lie on the other guy before he lies on you.”

    In the Sanford incident, the narrative has been written, and the truth is really not important anymore. It has entered the political arena, and the legal case will need to mold itself to the political narrative. From what I could tell, the police did not release any details initially, and therefore, their story did not get told first. And, Zimmerman’s story is still nonexistent.

    I first heard about the incident about four weeks ago, and it has never made any sense to me. I suspect that there is a lot that will never be investigated, and unfortunately, truth will be sacrificed for political expediency.

  • Icepick Link

    TB, I’m not sure what parts don’t make sense to you (I don’t mean that sarcastically, I honestly don’t know) but if you haven’t then listening to the 911 calls, especially Zimmerman’s, might clear up some points. I was confused about a few points until listening to Zimmerman’s call in particular laid out some of the events in better detail.

    The problem is about 30 to 60 seconds where the only knowledge of the event comes from Zimmerman’s testimony. That’s the time from the end of Zimmerman’s call until the start of the other calls and other eyewitness* testimony. That’s the time frame in which Zimmerman claims he started to return to his vehicle and was confronted by and then punched by Martin. After this, eyewitnesses confirm that Martin was on top of Zimmerman, and what appears to be the best eyewitness account claims Zimmerman was crying for help. Then the shot.

    Yesterday it came out that the lead Homicide detective for the police didn’t buy Zimmerman’s account and thought he should have been arrested for manslaughter, but that was quashed by the state attorney’s office because they didn’t think they’d be able to convict. (This puts the actions of the police in a somewhat different light.) I’m guessing (but do not know!) that the Homicide detective didn’t believe Zimmerman was returning to his vehicle when the confrontation started.

    But this is why I asked earlier in the thread which story was being discussed. There are many stories here, and a lot of ancillary storiews, like Spike Lee trying to gert an elderly couple murdered and Obama’s boys in the New Black Panther Party putting out a bounty on Zimmerman. (I have not heard ANY politician at any level speak out against that.)

    * There is apparently an EARwitness that can shed a little light on that disputed section of time. That would be the girl reported as Martin’s girlfriend who was on the phone with him at the time. But she didn’t SEE what happened, and like Zimmerman she might be biased to remember things in a certain light. (I’m not claiming that either are mis-representing what they know, only that there is a question of bias about both.)

  • TastyBits Link


    I heard about this case four weeks ago. I was not paying particular attention, but a few things did not make sense. At that time, the story was that a white guy shot a black teenage boy, and the black teenage boy had a bag of skittles. Later a can of iced tea was also involved somehow. The national media was not reporting the story, but I am not sure what the local media was reporting. The police was not releasing many details, but I was only getting the story 3rd or 4th hand. I also am wary of the facts from these blogs.

    I am guessing that Sanford is not a large city and that the murder rate is not very high. This may explain the lack of information, but it is not the way to handle this type of situation. I am also guessing it is a suburb, and not many people walk. A gated community implies restricted entry & exit, and in a suburb, this is usually limited to vehicles. Exiting is triggered by a vehicle, and entry requires a code or garage door opener device.

    Walking to a store to buy a bag of skittles and iced tea from a suburban gated community does not make sense to me. The equation seemed to be “black teenage boy with skittles and iced tea” + “white man with gun” = “murder”. Considering where I was getting my information, this was expected, but the lack of information from the police was unexpected. Whatever the police finally release will be discounted by the sources, but this is expected. I like to get info from various sources.

    The skittles and iced tea did not seem to have any bearing on the incident. I am still unsure why they were mentioned, but somebody had some reason for including them. The white man turned out to be half white, and a new ethnic group was created for him. His mug shot revealed the reason for this. The picture of the 17 year old black teenage boy did not match the description.

    A specific narrative was being developed, and it does not make sense. The facts coming out are beginning to make sense, but even now, I am trying to put it together without the spin. I think your series of events is close to the truth. I think that both Zimmerman and Martin have some culpability for the incident. My guess is Zimmerman was overconfident due to his weapon, and he initiated something he could not finish. I am guessing Martin was overconfident due to his street thug act, and he initiated something that finished him.

    Zimmerman and Martin are probably both posers. One was trying to be a bad-ass enforcer, and the other was trying to be a tough street thug. When Zimmerman backed off, Martin probably took this as weakness, and he went after Zimmerman. We will never know how far Martin would have gone.

    Three weeks ago, I could tell this was going to be a train wreck, and the facts would really not matter. Since this is not silly nonsense, Snark Hunting has been suspended.

  • Icepick Link

    Sanford has about 54,000 people. It is one of the older towns around here. One could call it a suburb of Greater Orlando, but pretty much everything down here is suburban.

    Sanford has crime problems. The gated community where this happened had been having burglary problems in the year leading up to the shooting. _I_ wouldn’t call it particularly dangerous, but I live in Pine Hills, which is a little larger and more dangerous. (Though nowhere near as bad as it was three to five years ago, when Pine Hills was becoming really scary – and I mean in the middle of the day.)

    At this point the spin is completely in charge of the story. It is just as easy to claim Zimmerman was simply a concerned citizen working hard to keep his neighborhood from going to Hell as it is to claim he’s a wannabe-Bubba cop. The second story just got spun first.

    The whole thing is so spin-dependent, and that’s why I asked PD Shaw about which story he was referencing. OTOH steve made it clear that he believes Zimmerman was out looking to bust up some black kid that night, so I don’t need to ask what story he’s talking about.

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